When the Nets resume their season against the Magic on Friday at Disney World in Orlando, it will be 112 days since they won their last game over the Lakers before the NBA season was paused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Six players from the active roster that night in Los Angeles plus injured superstars Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are not with the Nets for the restart.
Despite all the adversity the Nets (30-34) have faced, they still are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, half a game ahead of the Magic (30-35) and six full games ahead of the ninth-place Wizards (24-40), whom they face on Sunday. And they aren’t looking for any excuses.
“You get into this game to compete at the highest level, and that will never change for us organizationally,” coach Jacque Vaughn said in a video chat with reporters after Thursday’s practice. “There’s some elements, some tenets, some core values that have to continue as an organization. The players we have now, and the players who aren’t with us because of different circumstances all stand for the same thing. The players we have now are representing that part of us right now.”
Among those missing are starters Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince, all of whom tested positive, and veteran Wilson Chandler, who opted out for personal reasons. That leaves a young core of Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen, who lost his starting job to Jordan in the final two games before the stoppage, to lead the Nets.
“It’s very important for those guys to have good games for us every single game,” Vaughn said. “A lot of pressure that way for those guys to perform, but I think they appreciate that…They’ll play the most minutes more than likely.”
All 22 teams involved in the restart are scheduled to play eight regular-season games to determine the eight playoff seeds in each conference. The Nets are 0-2 in the season series against both the Magic and Wizards and play the Magic twice and the Wizards once. So, those games will be critical.
“Today in practice, Jamal [Crawford] said it best, how these games should be played…like they almost count as two,” Allen said. “We should give these games double the effort, especially because they’re close to us in the standings.”
Allen added that the Nets “are itching to play,” but at the same time, he acknowledged the adversity they are facing with a revamped roster. Newcomer Tyler Johnson figures to be a prominent addition as a shooter off the bench, but the 19-year veteran Crawford, who did not play earlier this season, and young backup center Donta Hall, did not play any of the Nets’ three scrimmage games and might not be part of the rotation.
“You know how we roll as Nets,” Allen joked. “We can never catch a break. Everything always seems to happen to us. We always seem to have to find a way to keep moving forward…We find a way to keep playing hard and keep playing our game.”
Vaughn said his new roster will try new things on offense and defense that they didn’t show during the scrimmages, but he worried about the Magic’s ability to slow teams in transition defense and a high-powered offense that includes All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, forward Aaron Gordon, guard Evan Fournier and hot-shooting Terrence Ross off the bench. The Nets’ addition of Johnson figures to be key for them.
“We’re obviously putting importance on every game,” Johnson said, “but everybody feels these first two games are very important – one, for momentum moving forward, and then, the other just for seeding and to get off on the right foot.”